Google once again under scrutiny amid privacy concerns

In 2010, Google Inc. launched a social feature called Google Buzz that somehow caused users’ private contacts lists to be made public. The resulting outcry led to an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission. The Commission’s findings brought about a settlement with Google last October. The terms of the settlement required the internet search giant to implement a comprehensive privacy program and to avoid “future privacy misrepresentations.”

Now, there appears to be evidence that Google has discovered, and utilized, a work-around for privacy protections built into Apple Inc.’s iPhone software, specifically the Safari web browser. Representatives Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, Joe Barton of Texas, and Cliff Sterns of Florida—all of whom are members of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus—signed a letter to the FTC expressing concern over Google’s actions. “Safari is a major web browser used by millions of Americans,” they note, and ask whether the FTC intends to “investigate whether Google has violated the terms of its consent agreement.”

The concern expressed in the letter stems from a Stanford study that concluded that Google, as well as other advertisers, had willfully circumvented features within Safari designed to protect users’ privacy. Specifically, Google found a way to place third-party cookies on iPhone Safari browsers. Cookies are text files used to track browsing activity.

Google insists that the cookies were never used to collect personal information; nonetheless, the company has agreed to remove them. It is not clear whether Google faces additional legal consequences related to this latest incident.

The full report can be found here.

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